Ghum Nei – An old political play about Subalterns on Bhadralok’s theatre stage

Posted by Kaahon Desk On December 22, 2019

Bengali play ‘Ghum Nei’ produced by Ichhemoto theatre troupe was recently staged on December 15, 2019 at Niranjan Sadan. The play written by Utpal Dutt has been directed by Sourav Palodhi. This review though has been written on the basis of the show held at Madhusudan Mancha on October 1, 2019.

We all know that Utpal Dutt was a follower of the Communist ideology and that almost all of his plays emanated from this strong political commitment of his. ‘Ghum Nei’ too isn’t an exception. The play had been written based on the constantly growing importance of the trade union movement in the politics of the nation during the early 1960s. The crux of the play lies in the age old conflict between the labourer and the master! The play is about a few hours of conversation between truck drivers in the evening in front of a food hub on a highway. The play was very contextual in the 1960s owing to the economic, social and political situation at that time. Even today after 50 years, the subject of the play has proved to be relevant although the economic, social and political situation of the nation has changed a lot. Hence it was a matter of utter curiosity to see how a promising director of today’s Bengali theatre world has interpreted and presented the play.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

While working on the play, the first decision that should’ve been thought of is whether the play must be set in the present time. It’s quite difficult to do that with enough credibility, and even better if it’s not done in a half-hearted manner. The director understood this fact from the beginning itself. The mention of Siddhartha Shankar Ray in the first few dialogues makes it clear that the play hasn’t been set in today’s time. Later, the reference of the actor Helen indisputably implies that the play is set in the 1970s. Dutt’s original play had mentions of Madhubala instead of Helen. The reason for this modification isn’t quite clear because there aren’t any other changes in the play associated to the chosen time frame. But although the play is an old one, the audience certainly belongs to the present era. Therefore, the play needed editing wing to the present times, which was done by the director Sourav himself. The original play had an overall air of misogyny, which might be very realistic in the utterly male dominated world of truck drivers. But here the director has tried a bit to reduce that air – one of the attempts was by omitting one of the scenes where a well-dressed up woman, who enters the stage unnecessarily, becomes the centre of the male gaze and attention. There’s also a scene in the play where the truck drivers beat up their master and the police/security guards. But it’s not possible to support mob lynching especially during such tumultuous times. Thus, the intensity of that scene too is reduced with the help of mime and music. But the characters of the original play, on one hand, are very one-dimensional – among the drivers, one is suffering from a nerve problem, one from insomnia, one is heroic in nature, but everyone is “good” as a human being. On the other hand, the master of the truck drivers and the journalists from the city are marked as the “bad” ones. The play could’ve been more wholesome if this problem of the original play could’ve been addressed.

A specialty of the play is that it’s not outright political. They don’t shout out slogans like “Workers of the world, unite!” right from the beginning. The drivers unite one by one. An interaction and conversation goes on between shopkeepers, guards, policemen and journalists – all of which are about their own personal lives. Nothing too dramatic happens onstage. And gradually, from a very practical situation comes up the subject of workers’ unity. The biggest success of this play lies in the fact that nothing dramatic happens onstage yet the attention of the audience remains undivided. This kind of implementation is usually seen on the screen but never on the stage – thus, the play could claim to be distinct on these grounds. This successful implementation has been possible due to an apt set design, a compatible composition added to that and spontaneous performances by the actors in accordance with the other two. The set design is a result of the combined effort of all the group members, where the stage comprises of only a few simple props. The acting style is also quite realistic. Everyone might not have been as fine an actor as Kousik Kar but each of them has been spontaneous and tried to maintain that credibility as much as possible. The decision to omit an interval helped in maintaining the realistic essence. But the repeated use of loud engine sound and two bright lights representing headlights of trucks directed straight towards the audience – while stopping the play and dimming the stage lights- whenever the vehicles arrive affects the flow of the play and creates irritation. This could’ve made better effect if used only in the last scene.

In the extreme of youth, the creators have tried to attack some of the prejudices. One of them would be the use of a Baul song (as well as a Rabindrsangeet) with the amalgamation of (so-called) slurs as its whole lyrics. Not that the song sounds bad but the usage of excessive number of songs has helped in filling the body of the play. There are more such uses which seem to have been well thought of. One of the dialogues has mentions of a Maruti car. The creators must be very aware that Maruti cars didn’t exist during that time! The most strange is changing the character of ‘Bhawani’ to ‘Eklakh’, who dresses up as a typical Muslim wearing a white cap and starts praying in the last scene. These seem like the creators wanted to bring in critical questions to the minds of the audience.

Khajanchibabu– Bengali literature on Bengali stage; a relief from foreign dramas and filmsThe first thing that we notice while entering the hall to watch the play is swarms of young people in the audience – a rare scene in Bengali theatre. The credit for attracting this age group goes entirely to the team of Ichhemoto and its leaders. In the end, when the red flag or the symbol of the hammer and sickle is lifted high up, the excitement of these young people is something to be noticed. Well, in that particular scene, the actors persuade the audience to applaud. Now, is the politics of the play actually reaching the audience or are they rejoicing the play only as a classic text with the added appeal of slurs, music, dance, comic timings, and Kar’s heroic performance? From the words of the director during the curtain call, it may be thought that he has in fact treated the play as a classic text. ‘Ghum Nei’ is definitely a political play with purpose. Utpal Dutt had always wanted to perform such political plays in the midst of workers and labourers. As said by Dutt (Jopenda): “Creating a political play and then performing it in a small confined space like Academy of Fine Ats repeatedly in front of a few middle and high class intellectuals no longer makes it a political play. It becomes a show of absurdity.” Due to such times, this play is being performed in a little confined proscenium; the struggle of the subaltern has now become the entertainment of the fine middle and high class intellectuals. But we can’t give up hope. That the youth is getting involved in such numbers is definitely a good change. We’re waiting for the next play under the direction of Sourav Palodhi.

Anjan Nandi
A science student, postdoctoral researcher, writer-translator of science oriented popular literature and a dedicated audience of theatre for last two decades, he has observed many changes in Bengali theatre from a very close proximity. He is a regular contributor in Bengali Wikipedia and engages himself deeply in photography and cinema.

Translation- Rishav Dutta

Read this review in Bengali.

বাংলাতে পড়তে ক্লিক করুন।

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